Months after Jefferson County Public Schools dodged a state takeover, two Louisville lawmakers are moving to restrict the state’s power in future management scenarios.
House Bill 172, filed this week, would require at least two years of unsuccessful state assistance for a struggling school district before allowing state management. A takeover would only be the first step in cases of insolvency or criminal malfeasance, if passed.
Kentucky’s education commissioner would also only have power over issues found in a management audit, not all aspects of a district.
The bill also proposes changes to management audits, which typically end in a recommendation of assistance or takeover. Each audit would review certain aspects of the district, many of which are already examined during an audit.
The commissioner would then have to provide a list of issues, corrective actions, “clear” success metrics and a timeframe for a district to fix them,.
Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican, and Jeffery Donahue, a Democrat, both from Jefferson County, are co-sponsoring the bill.
Wayne Lewis recommended a state takeover of JCPS weeks after becoming interim commissioner last April. The move concluded a monthslong management audit of the district, one many thought would end in a state assistance recommendation instead.
Months later, JCPS and the state dodged a lengthy appeals process over the decision by agreeing to a corrective action plan to improve the district. Under the settlement, JCPS will be audited again in fall 2020.
HB 172 would also require the state board of education to have at least two at-large members with teaching experience. Only one current state board member, Gary Houchens, has an education background.
The lack of experience drew ire last year when Gov. Matt Bevin opted to put entrepreneurs instead of teachers on the board when multiple terms expired last April. Within 36 hours of the switch, then-commissioner Stephen Pruitt had resigned under fire during a special meeting of the new board.